Montana State University Billings will cut 37 programs as part of a broader effort to align its coursework with student and workforce needs, according to Melinda Arnold, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Those programs might include majors, minors or certificates that each department has identified as an area with declining demand. Some of the cuts come in the form of consolidated programs.
Students already enrolled in the programs slated to be cut will get to finish. According to a spreadsheet provided by Arnold of the programs to be phased out, about 64 students, ranging from freshmen to those pursuing second bachelor's degrees, are enrolled in those programs.
“Every college has offered up a few things that they don’t see the need for anymore,” Arnold said. “So we’re not targeting any college, we’re not targeting any discipline.”
Arnold said there was no quota for cuts to be made at the outset of the process. Instead, she said, the cuts are part of a standard “program alignment” process every university undertakes.
The university has begun to phase out the 37 programs for students, putting the programs "on moratorium," Arnold said. Eventually they will not be available to students.
Then the university plans to start adding new programs or expanding existing ones, after the departments identify where the need is.
The school’s nursing programs, both at City College and the main campus, have waiting lists, Arnold said. That’s one area where they hope to enroll more students in the future.
“It’s not really about cuts,” Arnold said. “It’s about making sure the programs we are running are … competitive in the marketplace.”
Kurt Toenjes, chair of the biological and physical sciences department, is on board with the changes.
“Is it worth it having a program that only one student takes every two years?” he said.
In Toenjes' department, those underutilized programs were things like separate teaching majors in individual sciences. Those will be dropped in favor of a broad field science teaching major, which allows someone to teach multiple scientific disciplines, making the student more marketable around Montana, Toenjes said.
A similar consolidation has happened with science minors. Going forward, the department will offer one minor that encompasses physics, earth science, biology and chemistry, rather than individual minors.
Toenjes joked he “drank the Kool-Aid” from the university administration saying it’s wise to have fewer, but more robust, offerings.
Still, there's opposition.
“A lot of people on campus are really nervous about this,” he said, noting some faculty don't ever like to see programs go away.
With 173 programs, the school has roughly one program per faculty member, Toenjes said. Each requires advising staff, a yearly assessment and marketing.
The cuts aren't expected to result in staff reductions, Arnold said. "The intent of Strategic Program Alignment is not to eliminate jobs, rather to align our degrees and programs with student needs and market demands," she said in an emailed statement.
Toenjes said the process was pushed by the school's accreditors.
“They’ve said for years and years we have too many programs,” Toenjes said.